Rough Terrain – Annabeth Albert

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Author: Annabeth Albert
Series: Out of Uniform #7

Pages: 384

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Navy SEAL Renzo Bianchi has a soft spot for Canaan Finley, and not only because the man makes a mean smoothie. He’s the first guy to get Renzo’s motor revving in a long time. But when he agrees to Canaan’s insane charade—one all-access fake boyfriend, coming right up—he never expects more than a fling.

Creating a hot Italian SEAL boyfriend to save face seemed like a good idea…until his friends called Canaan’s bluff. Now he’s setting off into the woods with the very man who inspired his deception, and Canaan is not the outdoorsy type. The sparks are already flying when a flash flood separates them from their group, leaving Renzo and Canaan very much trapped…very much alone in the wilderness.

Working together to come up with a plan for survival is sexier than either of them expects. But back in the real world, being a couple is bringing its own set of hazards…

I did it!! I started a new saga in 2018 and I have ended it in 2019!! Barely a year and a half to fulfill such accomplishment. It is pretty huge for me. I usually get distracted by new and shiny sagas and I forget about the ones that I had already started. The Out of Uniform series deserves that honor, even though there have been some books that are not that great. But, the last one is a nice goodbye, although it could have been better.

This last time we follow Renzo, the SEAL known as Rooster, a gym junkie and a skydiving lover who has to deal with the hero complex his family is putting on him. On the other hand, we have Canaan; the former drummer and current nurse student who is way too fond of Renzo’s tight T-Shirts. A fake boyfriend favor turns into an adventure to save their lives and they both realize that life is too precious to waste…

My first impression of the story is not a good one. It takes too long to go forward and the first chapters are a bit awkward. The initial chemistry between Renzo and Canaan was pretty low and unremarkable,  which made me be afraid I was going to face another boring couple that leaves me feeling indifferent. Thankfully, that changes little by little. The book really starts when they travel to the Colorado Canyon and have the little adventure against the elements. That was fun (for the readers, I’m not a sadist!!) and was the perfect stage for some necessary bonding between the main characters. After that, it keeps a slow pace, but steady and always forward.

The fact that I couldn’t connect with the main characters during the first chapters could have meant being bored to death during the most emotional situations; but, by the time those moments happen, the couple had already grown on me and I felt the sweet discomfort of the bumpy ride. These guys deserve happiness and I’m glad they have found a version of it. I must admit I am not altogether convinced of their arrangement. I can’t shake the feeling that the path taken has been chosen to please more Renzo’s mother thatn Renzo himself. But that could be my jelousy talking!

The characters are OK, but I have had a harder time to get to like them than I was expecting. Renzo is not the guy I thought, he is somehow better; but at the same time he is lacking something. He is a good guy, loyal, polite… He is way too good. He needed some spice, some cockiness, some player attitude. He looks the part, but doesn’t behave like that. It’s a bit disconcerting, actually. Until the author lets us know him better, Renzo is even a boring character. And Canaan… that guy is too direct. No filter or anything similar with this guy. All day talking about sex gets old very fast. He didn’t rock my world as he did with Renzo’s, but I admit they are pretty great together.

And now I will have to hunt down another of Annabeth’s sagas, because I like her style. Out of Uniform has been a welcome surprise. A sweet and emotional jouney through seven books that have shown me that Military Romance can be awesome if done properly.

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2019 – Book Gallery

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Skin and Bone – T.A. Moore

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Author: T.A. Moore
Series: Digging Up Bones #2

Pages: 240

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Cloister Witte and his K-9 partner, Bourneville, find the lost and bring them home.

But the job doesn’t always end there.

Janet Morrow, a young trans woman, lies in a coma after wandering away from her car during a storm. But just because Cloister found the young tourist doesn’t mean she’s home. What brought her to Plenty, California… and who didn’t want her to leave?

With the help of Special Agent Javi Merlo, who continues to deny his growing feelings for the rough-edged deputy, Cloister unearths a ten-year-old conspiracy of silence that taps into Plenty’s history of corruption.

Janet Morrow’s old secrets aren’t the only ones coming to light. Javi has tried to put his past behind him, but some people seem determined to pull his skeletons out of the closet. His dark history with a senior agent in Phoenix complicates not just the investigation but his relationship with Cloister.

And since when has he cared about that?

When I finished the first book, I was scared that the saga was cancelled. Two years between the first and the second book is not something normal in Romance. In that genre you can even find authors who publish a book every two weeks. Although I would bet the quality in those stories is not as high as in the books of the Digging up bones saga.

We obviously follow again the adventures of Cloister, Javi and the K-9 unit called Bourneville. This time, a trans woman is attacked in Plenty and Cloister saves her life just in time. It’s up to him and Javi to discover who is behind the attack. Meanwhile, they must also discover what the hell is that thing brewing between them.

As in the previous book, the mystery takes a huge chunk of the story, what makes the book feels special. I think it would be a perfect story to introduce someone to the genre, because is not heavy in the romance and the suspense part is developed with enough care to entertain a mystery lover. But it has a tiny problem. It is a bit hard to follow. At least for me. There are too many names and important events being mention and mixed at all times. So many leads that collide with each other… It makes me wish to have taken a notebook to draw a schema of the case, because more than once I was lost. It doesn’t make the book less enoyable, but days after finishing it I still have some questions about what really happened.

The love part is infuriatingly slow. Don’t get me wrong, that is what makes it greater than other love stories. Since the first moment, the author lets the reader know that Javi and Cloister are perfect for each other. But, at the same time, doesn’t allow the characters to acknowledge it. We have to witness an endless string of excuses and half-hearted fights among them. I found myself yelling at them more than once. Usually a classic: Kiss already, you idiots!!! It was really unnerving sometimes (sweet unnerving, though). When I ship so hard for a couple that means they are giving me what I enjoy most in the Romance genre: slow brewed love. These guys are following all the steps one by one in order to make sure they have something real and durable. I wouldn’t mind if they speed thing up just a little bit and stop being so stubborn, though. Maybe in the third book they will finally hold hands or something equally cute.

The cuteness of this book is hoarded by none other than Bourneville, the partner of Cloister and eerily amart dog. I know Cloister keeps reminding us that Bon is not a pet. That cuddling her is not really a good idea, but she keeps being cute and melting hearts everywhere. It comes to my mind the time she was pretending being asleep to avoid being kicked from the couch. Or her adorably crush on cats. How in the Hell can anyone stop petting her in those situations? Sometimes I think Cloister wants her all by himself. That’s not cool, man!!

Will we have to wait another two years for the third book? I hope not, but I’m already loyal, so I will wait no matter what. So far, I’m enjoying this couple and I wish this format were more common in the genre. I mean, the same couple for several books instead of a different couple in every book. Which is also great, but the scales are much more favourable to the later, so…

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2019 – Book Gallery

Tight Quarters – Annabeth Albert

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Author: Annabeth Albert
Series: Out of Uniform #6

Pages: 336

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Petty Officer Bacon, a navy SEAL and ace sharpshooter, has been on the front lines of more than his fair share of dangerous ops. Yet when a minor injury relegates him to the beta team, he’s tasked with what may be his riskiest assignment yet: the silver fox journalist he’s babysitting is the hottest, most charismatic man he’s ever encountered.

Award-winning journalist Spencer Bryant may have been named one of Pride magazine’s most eligible bachelors of the year, but he’s not looking to change his relationship status. He’s a consummate professional who won’t risk his ethics or impeccable reputation by getting involved with a source. Even a sexy-as-hell military man. But while Spencer can resist his physical attraction to Bacon, he has less control over his emotions—especially when the mission goes sideways and the two men are trapped alone.

Getting out of the jungle alive turns out to be easy compared to facing the truth about their feelings for one another back in the real world. And whether or not they can build a future is a different story altogether.

Little by little I’m getting to the end of this saga. I’m so proud of myself for being able to read all of them in a couple of years instead of twenty… At least, I hope to read the last one sooner rather than later. I also hope that the last one is better than the sixth book, which I can only describe as plain.

This is the book of Bacon and I don’t mean the food. It follows the adventures of the Petty Officer we met in other books as merely a cameo. He is a SEAL through and through. One that keeps his sexuality a secret to avoid complications with his team. The one destined for rocking his world is a journalist called Spencer, who has been given the chance of being embedded in Bacon’s team to write a story. Obviously, our ace sniper is the one who must protect the journalist at all times. I have your six gets a new meaning…

The story looked like a cool cauldron for a romance to bloom. I was expecting something feral in the middle of a terrosrist crisis, full of danger everywhere with heroic and sweet situations. Something like what we read in the book of Ben and Maddox (no-prize for rembering their names!!). And there was a little bit of that, but it ends too abruptly and leaves the reader eager for more. Too bad that there is not more. The rest of the story is just about Bacon coming out and a too much drama about how incompatible their lives are. It is not boring, but this saga has always delivered emotional impact and this book lacks sorely of it.

The drama that tries to spice things up is messy and the weird elephant in the room. Why does Bacen get so pissed with the book? If he is afraid of the Navy getting thrown to the mud, he should read-proof it to bring his own point of view instead of running away and behaving which such self-righteousness. Spencer’s way of dealing with the issue is not much better. The worst part: at the end they just put what devide them on hold and keep moving… not very convincing if you ask me… Of all the love stories of this saga, this one is by far the least enjoyable.

There is also not much to say about the characters. The only interesting point of Spencer was being embedded in a SEAL team for research, but that ends quickly. So we soon get stuck with a very uncharismatic character. Thankfully, the difference in age between both characters doesn’t take part in the story. I wasm’t in the mood for a repeat of the worst parts of the second book… And Bacon is also very plain. His main trait is his pansexuality, but that is not really important for the development of the book… so that detail felt a bit empty.

I’m trying to come up with something with soemthing else to say about it, but it’s not worthy of my effort. It is not a bad book, but I can’t point to anythhing extraordinaire, either. I just hope next one is better.

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2019 – Book Gallery

 

Axios – Jaclyn Osborn

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Author: Jaclyn Osborn
Pages: 334

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I am Axios of Sparta, and I was born to kill. At age seven, I left home to train with other boys where we were taught obedience, solidarity, military strategy, and how to withstand pain. My harsh upbringing stripped me of my weaknesses and forced me to become strong. Ruthless.

But, I craved something greater—a life I could never have.

Against all odds, and the toughest training a warrior could endure, I found an unexpected love in the arms of a fellow Spartan. He was the very air I breathed and the water that sustained me. Fighting side by side with him, we were invincible. Where he went, I followed.

However, there was no place for love in Sparta. Feelings were for the weak. The only life for a Spartan was one of battle and brutality with no guarantee of tomorrow. In times of war, all men were put to the test, but the greatest challenge for us was not one of swords and spears, but of the heart.

I rarely read Historical books. For some weird reason I don’t enjoy that genre as much as any other. I’m capable of immersing myself in a contemporary book, or in a fantasy world or maybe in a far galaxy full of wonders. But when I have to surround myself with historical events I usually get dizzy and lose the North. So, in order to pick a Historical book, I need a carrot. In this case the carrot was a M/M Spartan tale.

The book is written from the point of view of Axios, a spartan boy who is forced to start his training to become a warrior as every other male in that city. He is different from the rest, though. He is not bloodthirsty and has dreams beyond the so-called glory of battle. The other side of the coin is represented by Eryx, who excels at everything during their training and is a firm believer of the Spartan way. The unlikely friendship between the two of them blooms into sexual attraction and later into deep love. We, the readers, are invited to follow that journey through serveral years.

First of all, I must congratulate the author on the perfect guide tour for that period of time. It is far from being a History lesson, but the readers will get tons of fun facts about the life in the ancient Sparta. And by fun I mean the mostly bloody, cruel and desensitize life they have to follow to a T. Before reading this book, my interest in Sparta was non-existent; but now I know it is much richer and surprsing than what movies have shown us. The fact that this book has made me curious about it is already a huge accomplishment. Thumbs up for teacher Osborn!!

The book has two main weak points that are greatly surpassed by the good ones. One of them is the beginning. The pace at first feels too slow. In order to easy the reader into the way of things of Sparta, the story of the characters has to start when they are pretty young. After that, we have time jumps of two years until they reach their early twenties. Those first chapters felt much longer than they actually are. I understand the need of them, but a faster pace for them would have been great. The other weak aspect of the book is the action or, better said, the lack of it. We are being told the tale of some Spartan warriors, but there are barely any fight scene in the book. The ones we get are usually rushed and just long enough to deliver some emotional blow. I guess I was expecting much more action from a book based on that period of time. With those two complaints it could look like the book could be boring, but nothing would be further from reality. The hard truth is that Axios is not a book about warriors from Sparta. It is a book about love between two people who shouldn’t be involved with each other.

So, when you embrace the truth about this story, you are up fro a treat. This is one of the most beautful love stories I have ever read. It is unexpectedly sweet and full of heart-melting gestures. Every time Eryx looked for Axios’s hand to reassure him before a big event, the butterflies in my stomach would perform several summersaults to applaud that simple gesture brimmig over with true love. The whole book is cramped with those. I will forever be grateful for having been given the chance of witnessing their story through several years. From their initial shy encounters to the full power of their passion during adulthood. From friendship to unbreakable loyalty to each other. I have enjoyed every moment of it: the happy moments, the storytelling, the games, the constant support, the doubts, the fights, the sad moments, the extremely sad moments, the please-kill-me-now moments (yes, the one that will leave you crying like a baby for hours…). All of it!!

It is not perfect, but I will treasure the memory of this book until the end of my days. Even now some tears are threatening to come out just remembering the whole story again. This is the first book by Jaclyn Osborn I have ever read, buy I’m going to make sure that it won’t be the last.

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2019 – Book Gallery

Final Day – Megan Erickson

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Author: Megan Erickson
Series: Wired & Dangerous #2.5
Pages: 114

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When his boyfriend is murdered, Erick Lee makes it his life’s mission to hunt down the killer. The question is, how far is he willing to go to catch him?

Erick has been asked to team up by a dangerously captivating hitman who has reasons of his own to want this man dead. But can he trust another killer? And do two wrongs ever make a right?

Everett “Tarr” Hawk isn’t just some lethal hitman. He has his own code of honor. With Erick and Tarr facing a common enemy, it’s only by combining forces that they’ll survive. But Tarr’s code doesn’t include a fierce attraction for someone he’s sworn to defend with his life. Because in Tarr’s world, every night presents a new danger . . . and listening to his own heart could get them both killed.

I was looking forward to read this book. Erick is, in my opinion, the most enjoyable character of this peculiar group of hackers who barely hack. I was a bit sad to learn that he was not getting a full book, just a short novella. It was good, but I still have room for seconds… or thirds…

As I said, this short book follows the misadventures of Erick, Wren’s brother from the first book. After being saved by the mercenary Tarr, the hacker is way too much interested about the killer for hire. They do not like each other very much, but they have to join forces in order to save Tarr’s family.

One of the main reasons I was expecting this book eagerly was the fact that Erick is a lot of fun. He is witty, nerdy and good humored; which are the perfect ingredients for a nice round of banter. It is even better when the one recieving the lippy treatment is a serious, taciturn guy. The dialogs between Tarr and Erick during the first chapters are pure gold and the main reason of the high mark I have granted to the story. Those made me smile from ear to ear and that means the world to me when I’m reading.

The only good consequence of being such a short book is that it is action packed. There is almost no rest for the characters. Their constant runnig for their lives grants the book with a lively pace that is not very common in the Romance genre. Sometimes, in order to achieve a good romance, the author has to sacrifce the action or the other way around. In this case, both sides of the coin get their time in a very natural way.

But even though everything is great, the length of the book left me begging for more. The couple needed more time to blossom. The story needed more time to move the pieces together. And the ending… well, it’s not bad. Just a bit uneventful. They were in a really bad situation in one paragraph and in the following one everything is peachy again. Too easy.

The saga is far from over and I have a terrible feeling that it has been dropped. Not only because it is pretty weird that one of the most important characters gets such a short book. It’s also because the paperback version was cancelled and no new titles for the saga has been announced. Not good omens in the Romance world…

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2019 – Book Gallery

Butterfly Assassin – Annabelle Jacobs

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Author: Annabelle Jacobs
Pages: 280

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Shifter Aaron Harper gets drawn into illegal underground fighting to keep an eye on his best friend. The thrill of the fight keeps him coming back for more, but discovery could mean imprisonment and banishment from their pack. Without a beta to watch over them, common sense takes a back seat.

Michael Archer of the Shifter Crimes Task Force is investigating recent murders. Despite the brutal cause of death pointing to the work of a shifter’s claws, instinct tells him a well-known nightclub owner is involved, but they have no proof.

Aaron and Michael’s paths cross after another body with the same injuries is discovered. With Aaron finding himself on the wrong side of the SCTF and Michael looking for a killer, any attraction between them is both ill-advised and unlikely. But fate has other ideas.

Annabelle Jacobs was a new author for me. She wasn’t in my radar and this book was pretty low on my TBR list. But this year I am following an ABC Challenge for Romance Books in a community for readers and when I had to pick the B letter this one was the first that caught my eye. So, by pure accident, I have found an unexpecred awesome book. It’s a standalone book, but it takes place in the same universe as her Regent’s Park Pack saga. I haven’t read those and I can promise there is no need of reading them to understand Butterfly Assassin.

We follow the story of Aaron, a shifter who has been hooked to the adrenaline rush of illegal fights. For a shifter they are even more illegal, so he has to hide his true nature and bleed as any human. Michael is a Detective for the SCTF, a police force specialized in dealing with shifters. When several humans connected to the mastermind of the illegal fights appear dead at the hands of a shifter, the path of both characters collide in more than one way…

If you are expecting a lot of romance and hot sex every other chapter (when there is a shifter in this genre, they tend to have an insatiable hunger for sex), you are not going to like the book. My greatest surprise with this book is that the author drags masterfully the dance of unexpected attraction between hugely different characters. The “no-so-subtle-check-out”, the “looks-that-melt-steel”, the “uy-sorry-I-didn’t-mean-to-touch-you” and much more slow burners that keep the readers on their toes cheering for a happy ending. No rush, more fun. Their exchanges made me smile every time and I hated when they were appart.

Besides, this is no the classic romance with a shifter and the dreadful fated mate. I’m so glad that the author has dropped that annoying cliché of the genre. Instead, she presents us with the concept of bonding and greater emotions for the werewolves. The fact that Aaron feels the connection with Michael in a higher emotional level doesn’t make him a possessive grunt. He expresses honestly his need of claiming the detective as his, but he is very tactful to avoid any kind of hurtful comment or action. He is so attentive, easy-going and fun. MIchael is one of the lucky ones!!

That slow cooked meal was being served little by little as the main plot of the story develops: the killings of humans at the hand of a shifter. The mystery is more or less 85% of the book and it’s pretty well written in general. But there are several  missteps or lost opportunities a long the way. For example, in the beginning of the book, the author falls in the trap to repeat herself too much. The same thing was told over and over again to different characters. The consequence is that the plot takes to much time to take off, but I would never say that is boring beacuse of that (the book is not boring at all). And there is another weird moment at the end of the book, when Blake and Aaron exchange some punches, that is missing something. Until that moment, Blake had no idea that one of the illegal fighters of his boos was a secret shifter. I was expecting a comment or something, but he doesn’t even blink…

This book has been much more than what I was expecting. It’s almost perfect. The Regent’s Park Pack saga is going to get a bump on my TBR list to see if I have found a new favourite author or if it was just this book.

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2019 – Book Gallery

Squared Away – Annabeth Albert

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Author: Annabeth Albert
Series: Out of Uniform #5

Pages: 320

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In the wake of tragedy, SEAL Mark Whitley rushed stateside to act as guardian to his sister’s three young children. But a conflicting will could give custody to someone else—someone Mark remembers as a too young, too hot, wild party boy. Even after six years, Mark can’t shake the memory of his close encounter with Isaiah James, or face up to what it says about his own sexuality.

Isaiah’s totally over the crush that made him proposition Mark all those years ago. In fact, he’s done with crushing on the wrong men altogether. For now, he’s throwing himself into proving he’s the best person to care for his cousin’s kids. But there’s no denying there’s something sexy about a big, tough military man with a baby in his arms.

As the legal details get sorted out, their long-buried attraction resurfaces, leading to intimate evenings after the kids are tucked in. A forever future is within reach for all of them, if only Mark can find the courage he needs to trust Isaiah with his secrets—and his heart.

The previous book of the Out of Uniform saga left me cold and with an uneasy feeling. I was actaully scared that the series was going down a path of mediocrity pretty fast. But, I’m always glad to be wrong. The fifth book is awesome. It’s up there with the first one or the third one. A true pleasure for a reader like me.

This time the story focuses on Mark, a.k.a. Wizard, a medic SEAL who is too used to take charge in every crisis. He is about to face the biggest crisis yet: the death of his sister and brother-in-law leaving behind three little kids… He rushes home to take care of them, but he finds Isaiah, another uncle of the kids, managing everything just fine (as fine as it can be in that situation…). They already knew each other, but the relationship is pretty strained. They have to get passed their differences to put their best faces for the kids and that’s the first step of their unlikely romance…

This is maybe the hardest story so far in the saga. It’s so unfair to see the life of those kids rattle so badly and yet getting used to their new reality so fast and stoically. Reading how Isaiah and Mark jump to claim the guardianship of the kids even though they had almost zero experience with them, when it would have been easier for them to let them be processed by the system, was an emotionally rewarding experience. It was really heart-warming and an example to follow. I would lie if I’d say I didn’t cry more than once (I kind of love crying with books. That means they have something especial). I was even a bit angry with the behaviour of the legal system and the social workers that were so worry about the well-being of the kids that, in order to protect them, their well-being and happiness were actually the first things to be in jeopardy. I have no idea how that works in Spain, so even more clueless about that in the United States, but what I read in this book… It’s crazy that the uncles were constantly questioned about their intentions when it was pretty obvious they cared for the kids.

If that drama wasn’t enough, there are obviously romantic issues to add to the mix. As in previous books, those are mainly fear to be open about the sexuality of one or more of the characters. In this case, the one having doubts was Mark. When the book gets its hands dirty explaining Mark’s sexualty I wasn’t down for it. Too much terms being thrown at the reader in a short amount of time: pansexual, demisexual, asexual, gray ace… I couldn’t follow the author. I even had to stop reading to look for the meaning of gray ace, only to discover that it was explained in the book. But, as if a mage herself, the unintended misdirection of the juggling of terms made me miss the proper explanation for the proper term… Once the first impression is passed, I’m glad Annabeth took that path in the book. Mark’s sexuality grants the hard cuddling scenes a level of eroticism I haven’t found in a book in a really long time. I tend to consider sex the boring, or the least interesting, part in a romance book, but in this case it adds so much to the story.

The characters were also a surprised. I barely remembered Wizard from other books and Isaiah was just a cameo in the Ben’s and Maddox’s book, so I wasn’s expecting to like them so much so fast. I love everything about them when they are apart and together, except the luck of trust on each other during the first weeks. If they would have talked, really talk, about the guardianship of the kids, they would have spared themselves of pretty hurtful situations. Although, in that case, I think the book would have been less enjoyable. Am I a bad person for wishing hard times for characters I love? Sometimes it’s hard to balance morals and reading passions.

In any other book I would have hated the classic end of a Romance book, but this time I will have to admit that is perfect. Yes, rushed; but utterly logic. It needed to be done for the sake of the kids and I have zero doubts in my mids that those kids are even happier now than with their real parents. How the system could doubt that is beyond my comprehension… I hope we know more about this couple in future books. I would love to check on them to see if everything is going fine.

I started this saga about a year ago and I do not regret one single momento of it, even though there have been some down times. I will always trust this author to deliver awesome stories and characters. I should start looking at her other works more seriously now. I’m almost at the end of the Out of Uniform series (just two more if the author doesn’t publish any more).

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2019 – Book Gallery